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Pills that Sober You Up


Ever been so drunk and wishing to sober up ?  Well, no need to go on a spree to find uppers once this new “sober pill” comes out.

A team of researchers led by UCLA bimolecular engineer, Yunfeng Lu, and USC biochemist, Cheng Ji, have packaged enzymes inside a nontoxic, nanoscale polymer shell that mimic the body’s natural alcohol-processing activities.  The biomimetic enzyme nanocomplexes have been shown to quickly and dramatically reduce blood alcohol levels in intoxicated mice, and they show promise as antidotes and preventive measures for alcohol intoxication.  The researchers say, “We show that nanocomplexes containing alcohol oxidase and catalase could reduce blood alcohol levels in intoxicated mice, offering an alternative antidote and prophylactic for alcohol intoxication.”

The researchers reduced blood alcohol levels in intoxicated mice by injecting them with nanocapsules containing enzymes that are instrumental in alcohol metabolism.  The treatment demonstrates a novel drug delivery technology that could have broad medical applications.

Enzymes are proteins that catalyze a wide range of biological processes in the body, making them attractive candidates as therapeutics.  Many important biological functions require precisely arranged groups of different enzymes working in concert, often inside a cellular subcomponent called an organelle.  Though researchers have tried for years to develop such complexes in the lab, it has proved extremely difficult to maintain stable proteins and precisely control their size and arrangement.

The new research involves packaging multiple enzymes inside a nanoscale shell.  The resulting functional enzyme complex, made of a nontoxic polymer, “almost mimics an organelle,” says Yunfeng Lu.  The capsule stabilizes the proteins and protects them against degrading in the body.

To demonstrate the effectiveness of the delivery method, the researchers injected the mice with capsules containing two enzymes.  One of them (oxidase) produces hydrogen peroxide, so it has to work in concert with another enzyme that decomposes this potentially harmful by-product.  The researchers report that the mice receiving the enzyme treatment saw their blood alcohol content fall quickly and significantly compared with the controls in the study.

“The advance could open the door to a new class of enzyme drugs,” says Lu.   In the near future, he envisions an alcohol prophylactic or antidote that could be taken orally.  Since alcohol metabolism naturally occurs in the liver, it would “almost be like having millions of liver cell units inside your stomach or in your intestine, helping you to digest alcohol,” he says.

One can only imagine what sort of social, behavioral and biological consequences might come with the introduction of a “sober pill” that allows you to sober up at an accelerated rate.  On one side, it could help people drive home more safely after a night out, as well as limit other embarrassing things that come with being drunk.

But it’s also worth considering what effect such a sober pill might have on people’s behavior.  If sobriety was a pill and a short wait away, how might it affect your drinking habits.  There is great potential for abuse.  However, this abuse would be safer than taking uppers to mitigate drunkenness.  We are sure there will be much public debate if and when this pill comes out.

Works Cited:

1. Biomimetic enzyme nanocomplexes and their use as antidotes and preventive measures for alcohol intoxication. Nature Nanotechnology. 17 February 2013. Web. 19 February 2013.


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Filed under: Substance Abuse, Uncategorized · Tags: alcohol intoxication, drunkenness, nanocapsules containing enzymes, nanocomplexes, reduce blood alcohol levels, sober pill